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Prime minister David Cameron demands support for National Infrastructure Plan

The prime minister has urged Construction News readers to lobby opposing political parties to support the government’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Asked whether he backed the recommendations made by Sir John Armitt to create an independent infrastructure commission, Mr Cameron told Construction News: “[The commission] would be more important were it not for the fact that we now have a National Infrastructure Plan that sets out a multi-year programme of all the infrastructure we want to see built, so anyone in Construction News or indeed the construction industry can ask the different political parties, ‘Well do you support what is in the plan’?”

The Armitt Review was commissioned by the Labour Party to look at how the UK should plan to deliver infrastructure projects across the country.

It was led by the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sir John Armitt, who in September last year recommended an independent national infrastructure commission be created to take long-term decisions on upgrading the UK’s infrastructure.

Concerns have since been raised around the extent to which a Conservative government would take on Sir John’s proposals, which have been backed by Labour.

Footage courtesy of Skanska

Answering Construction News, chancellor George Osborne said it was important to “build cross-party consensus” for large and controversial schemes such as High Speed 2, but added that “attempts to break the consensus by some politicians have actually not got anywhere”.

He said: “I have a lot of respect for Sir John Armitt, who has delivered some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the world.

“And where I agree with him is, the more you can build cross-party consensus for some of these big schemes that last many, many years and need the support of all the political parties, we should try to achieve that consensus and I think you’ve seen that happen over the last couple of years on High Speed 2.

“That is a project, of course, that is controversial, particularly for the communities affected by it, but we’ve actually now got support – and this was clear in the recent vote in the House of Commons.”

He added: “And that’s what John Armitt was talking about with his commission, trying to force that political consensus.

“I think HS2 is a good example of where that is working, and where attempts to break the consensus by some politicians have actually not got anywhere because the rest of the political party concerned said, ‘Well, hold on, we want to go ahead with this thing, which is going to be transformative, for the economic geography of the country?’

“So I think Sir John’s idea of trying to get more cross-party consensus for these very big infrastructure projects is a good one.”

The chancellor said cross-party consensus would remove political risk for construction firms looking to build projects in the UK.

Mr Cameron highlighted the UK’s new-build nuclear project, Hinkley Point C, as another example of where cross-party support was needed.

He said: “Hinkley Point, this massive multi-year investment, [is] getting Britain back into operating and constructing nuclear plants. Again, that’s going ahead on an all-party basis.

“So, I think actually it is very important that we have this cross-party support and the National Infrastructure Plan is a way for everyone to see that these projects have support for the future.”

Responding to the comments, Sir John told Construction News that his approach “gives the best chance of creating a cross-party consensus through parliament” over the needs and timings for UK infrastructure, as well as the priority of their delivery.

He added: “I have had widespread support and we are currently working on a draft bill, which hopefully could be introduced and receive support following the election.”

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were answering questions at Skanska’s headquarters this week, after announcing that £36bn of planned investment into UK infrastructure for 2014/15 could support more than 150,000 construction jobs.

Skanska also announced plans to create 1,500 new construction jobs in the UK over the two to three years, after winning a series of contracts in rail, water, building and road projects.

Skanska chief executive Mike Putnam said: “I certainly think there is a case for having a strategic and integrated approach to infrastructure that is looking long term, but it’s also looking across the different parts of infrastructure and seeing how they inter-relate and then making informed choices based on how they inter-relate.

“[However], politically there’s not much willingness to go that far and I think that’s because politicians like to be able to influence [projects] at a point in time, which the Armitt Review [would take away].”

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